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Interview

Klarna’s Mariel Henkoff on why HR tech is falling short

Klarna’s head of people US on why the HR tech stack needs to change.

Yessi Bello-Perez

Unleash Your HR Tech Stack UNLEASH spoke to Klarna’s Mariel Henkoff about the company’s high growth and the impact on its HR function and technology.

  • HR tech platforms are falling short — data needs to be centralized to facilitate data-driven decisions.
  • The post-pandemic HR tech stack will need to foster collaboration, communication, and boost efficiency.
  • The return to the workplace needs to focus on employee wellbeing.

Klarna, the Swedish company, that allows customers to “buy-now-and-pay-later” has quickly become one of Europe’s fastest-growing fintech companies.

Founded in 2005, Klarna raised eyebrows when it raised an additional $1 billion a few weeks ago, bringing its valuation to a staggering $31 billion and tripling its value in just six months.

The company, which operates in a space being scrutinized by regulators, is currently on an acquisition drive.

This level of growth — coupled with the pressure of having to deliver returns to investors — can have a huge impact on people and culture, especially when most workforces are working remotely.

Speaking to UNLEASH, Mariel Henkoff, head of people US at Klarna, said:

“The biggest HR challenge we’ve faced over the past year has been maintaining our culture of close-knit teams and collaboration as we continue to scale rapidly and adjust to a fully remote working environment.”

Henkoff said teams are very important at Klarna. So much so that a few years ago the business implemented a model consisting of more than 400 small ‘startups’ within the organization.

Spurred on by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s early motto of “move fast and break things,” generations of technology companies have since ensured innovation seeps into every aspect of the business.

“The ‘startup’ teams are tasked with problem spaces that each member owns from start to finish, and are encouraged to experiment, iterate, try new things, and reiterate quickly,” Henkoff explained.

Creative hiring and onboarding

Hiring during a global pandemic isn’t easy and Henkoff admitted she’s had to get creative.

“In addition to the typical recruitment software, we’ve relied heavily on videoconferencing technology to provide as much interaction as possible,” she said, adding:

“During orientation days, new hires are able to participate in group sessions as well as break out into smaller teams and conversations through the use of video technology.

“While it doesn’t replace in-person interaction, it has been valuable in facilitating interactions among our people from day one.”

Mariel Henkoff, Klarna’s head of people in the US, joined the business in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

Henkoff did not disclose which HR tech vendors she uses, but she did tell UNLEASH that Klarna had recently migrated to a new learning and development system that dramatically enhanced the user experience and breadth of content and information available.

By doing this, Henkoff wants employees to take advantage of the knowledge base, courses, and trainings available to them.

An inclusive virtual environment

With many retailers going online, Klarna’s business boomed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the company continues to be on a hiring drive.

“We’ve been hiring at a rapid pace over the last year, essentially doubling our US headcount. The pandemic has not hindered our recruiting efforts or ability to find the best talent across different functions. In fact, our largest onboarding class to date was in August with 24 new people!,” Henkoff, who joined the business just 10 months ago, added.

Employees, or “Klarnauts” are at the core of Klarna’s HR strategy, which Henkoff noted, is driven by the notion of social connection and inclusion:

“This has been especially important during the pandemic, with so many new joiners coming on board and being unable to meet in person. We’ve put a lot of effort into building a positive and inclusive virtual environment, from onboarding to daily standups, to regular US and global all-hands meetings where we celebrate successes and hear what different teams are working on,” she added.

Like most other companies, Klarna is also paying increased attention to employee wellness, priortizing virtual social events for employees, ranging from “fika” to plant parties and yoga classes.

[Read more: Mental Wellbeing Must Be An HR Priority in 2021 (And Beyond)]

So far, it seems the strategy is paying off. Henkoff said that an employee survey conducted by GPW, showed that 91% of employees thought Klarna was a great place to work, compared to 59% of workers at a typical US-based company.

More importantly, 96% of respondents said they could be themselves at work and were made to feel welcome upon joining the business, that people care about each other, and that management was honest and ethical about its business practices.

“So that was a very exciting moment for the organization and for me personally,” Henkoff added.

HR tech needs to do better

The pandemic has caused HR departments to re-think their HR tech stacks. In fact, a recent survey by XpertHR, found that just over 85% of organizations have a formal HR tech strategy in place, or plan to introduce one over the next 12 months.

But Henkoff believes there’s significant room for improvement:

“While there’s a lot of innovative technologies that help streamline various HR functions, it would be great to see more platforms that aggregate various data points and provide a more holistic view of information.”

Doing so, she added, would allow employees to access their total compensation — salary, retirement portfolio, commuter benefits, wellness funds, etc — via a single dashboard and immediately get the full picture.

“Performance measurement is another area that would benefit from this kind of integrated service,” added Henkoff. “Managers would be able to access everything from executive coaching and leadership development tools to KPI tracking and performance measurement, all in one place.”

[Read more: Moving From Legacy To Digital HR in 6 Simple Steps]

COVID-19 has thrust HR into the spotlight, highlighting the need for digitization and collaborative working. Companies need to re-work their internal structure to ensure HR is not working in a silo — it should be plugged into every aspect of the business, having oversight and responsibility for the entire employee experience.

Henkoff agreed: “In addition to providing a more seamless, convenient user experience, the right platforms and tools also help connect traditional HR to trends related to business objectives and company growth.”

“Right now, people data and business data are separate,” added Henkoff. As a result, HR teams are finding it difficult to leverage the available data to assist with decision-making.

“It’s complicated to analyze data from disparate sources, like connecting performance review data with PTO data and analyzing against team performance across the company. In our current world of data-driven decision-making, it’s hard to imagine not having an accessible tool for all companies that facilitates the combination of people and business data,” she noted.

Henkoff and her team are currently devising return-to-office plans and considering what options make the most sense for Klarna’s employees.

“As we reach a full year of working remotely, we recognize that there will be an adjustment period as people shift from being home every day to having a commute and going into an office again,” she said.

“Whether we decide to return to office 100% at some point or convert to a flexible schedule, the safety, comfort and wellbeing of our employees is above all the most important factor in how we move forward once restrictions ease,” she added.

From a technology perspective, Henkoff said any tools that help smooth the transition while also increasing efficiency, communication, and collaboration (and decreasing Zoom fatigue) among teams that do work remotely will be valuable in a post-pandemic future of work.

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